Durward’s Cart

My uncle Durward seemed to be older than his years, a result of his bashful traits which I now, belatedly, attribute to the overbearing nature of his mother Sylvia Clark Morrow. Always ready with the harsh critique, she sought perfection and never found it, either in herself, her spouse, or her nine children of which Durward was the oldest. He learned at an early age there was no pleasing her. As far as I could tell, she was never pleased about anything.

So he fretted and obsessed and squirmed through life, marrying a spinster neighbor when he was forty and producing one child. They adopted a second one. He devoted his energy to his job, working in a newspaper printing operation, and to his flourishing garden. He also kept chickens. Gardening and chickens were necessity for the family, dirt poor hill folk in the Arkansas Ozarks.

He was sixty or so when I married a wild man and set up housekeeping on a wooded hilltop in a half finished house. We—husband, baby, and I—pursued the hillfolk life with a passion. Among other things like firewood and a garden, we needed chickens. That was about the same time that Durward decided he no longer wanted to mess with chickens, and so a project was born, to dismantle his chicken house and bring the walls, roof, and other bits up to our place. We had a pickup, but it alone wasn’t enough to perform the task, and so Durward also gave us his cart.

The cart—and the chicken house—were handcrafted by Durward himself, pulled together from scraps and, in the case of the cart, an old rear axle of some early vehicle. Our load of dismantled walls and roof of the approximately 10’ x 10’ coop were laboriously positioned into the lovingly-framed bed and the modest sideboards of his trailer, and the long journey from his farm near Johnson to our farm near West Fork began.

The distance of about twenty miles progressed slowly, red flags whipping in the breeze as the conveyances edged toward forty miles per hour. In due time, the roof became a wall to our fledgling barn while Durward’s chicken house walls were reborn as our chicken house walls with a new metal roof. The trailer was parked in the expectation there might be future use.

There wasn’t. It sits today, forty-six years later, where we parked it in 1976. The bed has rotted away as has the chicken house and the barn. One of the trailer’s sidewalls lingers. The rear axle and attached tires also remain, I suspect because they are solid rubber and probably the original tires that came with the vehicle. A phantasm of welds connect the original drive shaft to various pieces of metal to accommodate hauling.

Durward died in 2005 at the age of 89, but his cart lives on. I see it and think of him, remember his anxious ways, wringing his hands at family gatherings when the daylight started to fade. He’d mutter, “Gotta get home, it’s late.” He’d pace and entertain a few exhortations from his attending siblings to relax, hang around, but he’d shake his head and repeat “Gotta go” under his breath until he escaped the chaos to find his way home.

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